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Think Tank Study Reveals: Europe’s Middle Classes in Crisis

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A recent study conducted by the Martens Centre, the think tank of the centrist, pro-EU European People’s Party, sheds light on growing dissatisfaction among Europe’s middle classes.

This dissatisfaction extends to governing institutions, establishment political parties, and skepticism toward the ongoing war effort in Ukraine. In this article, we delve into the key findings of the study and their implications for the future of European politics.

 

Middle Class Discontent

 

The Martens Centre’s report confirms what many have sensed—an increasing disillusionment among Europe’s middle classes regarding traditional political parties and representative institutions. The study acknowledges that mainstream parties and governments are losing support, particularly in Southern and Eastern European countries like Bulgaria, Greece, and Slovakia. Notably, sizable portions of citizens in these regions feel let down by society, with significant minorities expressing greater distrust in the European Union and, surprisingly, greater trust in Russia.

 

The War Effort in Ukraine

 

One of the noteworthy findings of the study is the divide in public opinion concerning the war effort in Ukraine. While support for intervention is evident among wealthier segments of society, the lower middle class appears more concerned about the economic impact of the conflict. This divergence in attitudes toward the war underscores the complexity of the issue and its multifaceted impact on European societies.

 

Prescient Insights and Political Shifts

 

The report’s author and senior researcher, Federico Ottavio Reho, highlighted the study’s relevance in the context of recent political shifts. In Slovakia, for instance, a left-wing party opposed to providing military aid to Ukraine won the recent elections. This outcome aligns with the study’s findings, as it reflects the skepticism among certain segments of the population regarding intervention in international conflicts.

 

Migration Concerns and Economic Divides

 

Contrary to common perceptions, the study challenges the notion that migration is a primary concern across Europe. It argues that the issue of migration is specific to France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, while the lower middle classes in various countries identify inflation and corruption as more significant threats. Meanwhile, the upper middle classes tend to focus on energy dependency, aging populations, and worker shortages.

 

East-West Economic Divide

 

Economically, the study reveals a significant East-West divide within the European Union. Middle-class citizens in Western European countries that joined the EU before 2004 express greater pessimism about the future and their children’s prospects for improved living standards. Conversely, in Eastern European nations, like Poland, which joined the EU more recently, middle-class citizens generally maintain optimism about their children’s economic future.

 

The Call for More Europe

 

In line with the European People’s Party’s ideology, the report suggests that the solution to growing distrust in governing institutions lies in further European integration. It emphasizes the need to rejuvenate political parties by reinforcing transnational European cooperation and introducing new forms of direct participation and citizen engagement. The report envisions a scenario where Euro-integrationism and populist sentiment can coexist.

 

Conclusion:

 

Europe’s middle classes are sending a clear message of dissatisfaction with the status quo. As trust in traditional institutions wanes, the European political landscape faces a challenge. The Martens Centre’s study underscores the importance of addressing these concerns by revitalizing political parties and promoting European integration. The alternative, it warns, may lead to disintermediated forms of political representation, potentially fostering populist and plebiscitarian democracy—a path European leaders hope to avoid. The study serves as a valuable source of insights into the evolving political dynamics of the continent.

Zain Saleem
Zain Saleem
Zain Saleem is an Islamabad-based Senior Journalist

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